Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Barry's Boys

Don Goldwater, a candidate for governor of Arizona, was a guest on Sean Hannity's syndicated radio show today. Goldwater's primary campaign theme is that his opponent, incumbent Governor Janet Napolitano, is failing to enforce laws to control illegal immigration.

In the course of the interview, Hannity referred to Goldwater's great-uncle (or should I say "great uncle"?), Senator Barry Goldwater, as a "libertarian," explaining that the Republican Party is a coalition of "Christian conservatives, libertarians," and others. The younger Mr. Goldwater seemed to want to avoid the libertarian label both for himself and for his more famous relative, preferring "conservative," although he defined himself as someone who supported "limited government and individual liberty," which sounds pretty libertarian to me. (I don't know much more about Don Goldwater than what I heard in the course of this 10-minute interview, so I will withhold judgment.)

When Barry Goldwater passed away in May 1998, I wrote a tribute that appeared in slightly different formats in the Roanoke Times & World News, The Metro Herald, and the newsletter Republican Liberty (published by the Republican Liberty Caucus) in June 1998:

Barry Goldwater: Conservative Icon, Libertarian Visionary
Richard E. Sincere, Jr.

"In your heart, you know he's right." So said Barry Goldwater's supporters during the Senator's ill-fated 1964 presidential campaign. Many people disagreed, resulting in a landslide victory for Lyndon Johnson. But as we now know, Goldwater may have lost the battle, but over time, he won the war.

Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign transformed American politics. He galvanized two generations of political activists, and germinated both the modern conservative movement and the libertarian movement. He took a Republican party that was ideologically indistinguishable from its Democratic opponents and gave it a philosophical edge with ramifications that are still unresolved. Some of his supporters went on in 1971 to found America's third-largest political party, the Libertarian Party, and the rest in 1976 almost denied a sitting president, Gerald Ford, the GOP nomination. By 1980, Goldwater Republicans were in the ascendant and elected Ronald Reagan as president.

By the time Barry Goldwater died on May 29, his legacy was being felt not only across the United States, but around the world. His consistent embrace of strong national defense, free-market economics, and individual liberty had an impact on the decline and fall of the Soviet empire as well as the rejection of the American welfare state.

Before Barry Goldwater came on the scene, the Republican party largely consisted of upper-class, aging gentlemen who believed government should advance their business interests. Its leaders were northeastern, "country-club Republicans" like Thomas Dewey, Prescott Bush, and Henry Cabot Lodge. Goldwater, by contrast, came from the Arizona frontier and -- like his contemporary, philosopher Ayn Rand -- inspired teenagers and young adults to join in the struggle for human liberty and to oppose the forces of collectivism that had dominated 20th century politics. He opened up the party to people of all economic backgrounds, to women and ethnic minorities, to Catholics and evangelical Protestants -- all of whom had a stake in smaller government, free enterprise, and individual liberty.

In his later years, conservative Republicans claimed that Goldwater had abandoned his principles. They were wrong, because Goldwater was consistent throughout his life in his belief that government should be limited in its size and scope, that it should not intrude on the private lives of citizens, and that liberty was not only a worthy end in itself, but the most effective means to achieve peace, prosperity, and justice.

That is why, in the 1980s and ‘90s, Goldwater became an outspoken advocate for abortion rights (he was pro-choice) and also for protecting and respecting the rights of gay and lesbian citizens. In the midst of the debate on gays in the military, for instance, Goldwater said archly that "you don't have to be straight to shoot straight." Goldwater rightfully told his "conservative" critics that it was they, not he, who departed from the core principles that guided his presidential campaign and his entire career.

Goldwater's most quoted remark is the line in his 1964 convention speech: "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. . . . moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue." The words were delivered by Senator Goldwater, but they were written by libertarian speechwriter Karl Hess. Hess was just one of many libertarians who got their start with Goldwater. In his 1997 book, Bringing the Market Back In: The Political Revitalization of Market Liberalism, historian John L. Kelley identifies "Objectivists and conservative libertarians, many of them former Goldwater Republicans" as the two groups who "made up a clear majority of those who formed the Libertarian Party in 1971. Both supported a limited, constitutional republic, were unsympathetic to hedonism, defended American Cold-War foreign policy as justly resisting hostile threats, and viewed American history as generally honorable prior to the moral bankruptcy produced by the intellectual classes during the Progressive era and the New Deal."

Goldwater was the herald -- the "voice crying in the wilderness" -- for the new ideas that opposed collectivism and promoted freedom, while his supporters did the intellectual heavy lifting that transfigured American public policy. Goldwater proved to be a visionary when he opposed programs like Medicare and utopian schemes like the Great Society. He correctly predicted that Medicare would turn out to be a form of socialized medicine, eventually ration health care, and raise prices for all of us in the medical marketplace. He knew in the mid-'60s that Medicare, like the older Social Security, would one day go bankrupt -- which everyone now acknowledges will happen sometime within the next 20 years, if no changes are made in the system. He knew that an expanded welfare system would destroy inner city families and create a cycle of dependency on government that would undermine the ambitions and the self-esteem of millions of citizens.

Goldwater's supporters and their successors have, over the past 30 years, created the think tanks and the journals and the advocacy groups that have provided the freshest, soundest ideas to drive public policy, ranging from deregulation of business to market-based environmental protections to educational vouchers for poor students stuck in deteriorating government schools to ending the Selective Service System to pulling down barriers to international trade.

My earliest political memory dates back to when I was five years old. Standing with my grandparents and my mother (who, like future First Lady Hillary Rodham, was a "Goldwater Girl") on a dark, rainy Milwaukee street, I held up a hand-scrawled sign welcoming candidate Goldwater to a campaign rally. Little did I realize the history that was being made.

Goldwater, you see, paved the way for the Reagan Revolution. Reagan's entry into national politics was a televised speech he delivered on behalf of Goldwater days before the 1964 election. Two years later, Reagan himself was elected California governor and began his own, successful road to the White House and eight years of prosperity and strength leading to the collapse of Soviet Communism.

To be sure, the Republican party since Goldwater has had its episodes of backsliding. Its presidential candidates since 1988 (George Bush and Bob Dole) have had no perceptible philosophical foundation -- they lacked, as Bush put it, the "vision thing." Yet the legacy of Goldwater continues to be visible in younger members of Congress, especially those in the freshman class of 1994, and in party activists across the country, particularly those who belong to the Republican Liberty Caucus. This suggests that in the next few presidential elections, candidates who actually stand for something -- Steve Forbes? John Ashcroft? -- will have a better chance of being nominated.

Despite the ongoing dispute within the Republican party between libertarians and social conservatives over the role the government should play in regulating the private lives of individuals, the GOP is more vigorous today as a result of Barry Goldwater's leadership. Democrats, too, have come to recognize that government is not the solution to every human problem, although they have not been as swift to act. Life is better for all of us because Barry Goldwater led the way.

As political activist Chuck Muth frequently reminds us, the "Goldwater Doctrine" is the philosophy that unites (or should unite) libertarians and conservatives of all stripes. As stated in The Conscience of a Conservative, the "Goldwater Doctrine" says:
I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is 'needed' before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents' interests, I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.

Whatever you call it -- libertarian, South Park conservative, market liberal -- if you believe in the "Goldwater Doctrine," as I do, you are a Goldwater conservative because in your heart, you know he's right.


Shaun Kenney said...

Long live the Goldwater Doctrine.

Tim said...

BG was wrong on civil rights, though.